Wednesday, February 04, 2015

The right kind of rights

Let’s talk about rights for a minute.

What are rights? They are freedoms you enjoy, protected by the law. Some of the most basic human rights include:

• The right to free speech without government reprisal;
• The rights to a trial by jury, to face one’s accuser and to not incriminate oneself;
• The right to practice whatever religion one chooses, or no religion;
• The right to equal treatment under the law.

And so on.

Now, let’s look at what some are trying to pass as “rights” lately: 

• The “right” to smoke in public places.
• The “right” to not wash hands while working.
• The “right” to not wear a helmet or seat belt.
• The “right” to not vaccinate children.

Compare the top four examples to the bottom four. The difference, if you don’t already see it, is this:

Real rights don’t infringe upon others’ rights, or otherwise pose a burden to society as a whole.

Real rights empower human beings in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They don’t keep others from doing the same. (This is not the same as being criticized, opposed or offended. Sorry, religious right.)

But people who smoke in others’ spaces, don’t wash hands, refuse to practice traffic safety or (worst of all) don’t vaccinate, adversely affect everyone. They voluntarily introduce risk where it didn’t exist before, potentially affecting innocent people — which, by definition, hinders people’s basic rights.

And yet, many apologists for such “rights” insist that it’s those offended by secondhand smoke, filthy hands, unnecessarily gruesome accidents or measles outbreaks who should duck away. Because “freedom.”

As a society, we balance personal rights with the welfare of the whole. The classic example is the illegality of yelling, “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Few would seriously argue that doing such is freedom of speech. Similarly, if someone hurts or murders a store clerk to feed their family, the perpetrator still has to answer for the crime. We do that so as many people as possible can exercise their rights.

The real ones.

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